Page 7 of 9

Hipsters at the Ballet, and a New Work from Justin Peck

Justin Peck’s In Creases had its New York première on  May 29, which turned out to also be the latest installment of New York City Ballet’s “Art Series” events. Tickets were cheap, and the audience was filled with a far different crowd that included even the odd hipster. After the show, the company held a party on the esplanade. The atmosphere was lively.

Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.

And here is  a short excerpt:

“Peck has a sharp eye and lots of ideas, and, more importantly, his ballets feel uniquely his. He has his own style of movement: light, crisp, energetic, with lots of energy shooting outward, arms extended, fingers alive, legs shooting, feet like daggers. In a brief curtain speech, Peck said that the work was about “symmetry, athleticism, and magnetism,” and that’s precisely what one sees.”

Carousel Redux (at NYCB)

Overall, I found the ballet blander than I remembered. The pas de deux is  lovely, with hints of danger and a slightly obsessive quality. Lauren Lovette, débuting in the “Julie Jordan” role at New York City Ballet, captured this sense of excessive abandon quite well. At first she seems frightened and tries to run away from this strange man who pursues her, but then she finds herself drawn in inexorably. Finally, she acquiesces entirely, running toward him and wrapping herself around him like a scarf, chest exposed, off balance, completely vulnerable. In her excessive self-exposure, “Julie” reminds me of Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass. A rather conventional swoony pas de deux follows, with the usual big lifts. The first part is more interesting, more uncomfortable. Why does the man grasp her forearms with such force, and why does she keep running back to him? Why does he leave her alone, defenseless, for a moment? Lovette, a dark beauty with sparkling eyes, was perhaps a touch too innocent, too sweet here. Her interpretation felt like an extension of her Maria, from West Side Story. But I’m sure she’ll find more nuances over time. I remember Peck having a strange sort of animal quality; at first she fought for her freedom, and then she seemed to give in to an urge that even she couldn’t quite understand.

But the main problem with the  ballet is the Billy Bigelow part. In the musical, he’s depicted as an angry man with violent urges and a strong sexual energy. He’s damaged goods, but fatally attractive.  But Wheeldon’s choreography for Billy gives him almost no chance to reveal himself. Billy comes across as more of a conventional romantic lead. For the most part, Wheeldon keeps him occupied with partnering, pulling, lifting, turning, catching the girl. Or standing apart, under a spotlight and watching her as concentric circles revolve around him. Finally, when he does dance alone, briefly, the choreography doesn’t give us a sense of who he is or what he represents.  He performs a few jumps, some turns with his arms thrown out wide, and rushes about the stage with what looks like elation. Of course, it’s also true that there is absolutely nothing dark or dangerous about Robert Fairchild, who danced the role of Bigelow this afternoon. (In the recent New York Philharmonic production shown on Live from Lincoln Center it was equally hard to believe that Fairchild could be anything but a warm, lovely young man.) His dancing here had a lot of fervor but no real heat, and I do remember Woetzel having a bit more of an edge.

Wheeldon’s ensembles, which consist mainly of social dances and waltzes, interspersed with fluid, elegant lifts, are expertly handled, as are the big numbers, including  a long diagonal of couples that rise up and fold down to the ground and roll away, like a wave. The carousel image, with the women raised on the men’s shoulders as if on horseback, is nice. As is the overall look of the  ballet, suggesting a nocturnal outdoor dance pavilion, with two pretty garlands of colored lights hanging above. The costumes, stretchy summer dresses with panels in complementary colors (by Holly Hynes),  flow beautifully as the women whirl. And I’ve always liked  “Julie’s” yellow dress; the off-the shoulder straps expose her neck and upper back, making her look even more vulnerable, ripe for the picking.

Gala x 2: American Ballet Theatre

Opening Night Gala 2013American Ballet Theatre held its spring gala at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 13, kicking off the season. It included the usual mix of excerpts, but also full performances of Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Ratmansky’s Symphony No. 9. You can read my review for DanceTabs here.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“[Students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and members of the Studio Company] performed…a charmingly formal demonstration of classroom technique (Cortège)… Each dancer had a moment to shine. The students’ port de bras, soft and beautifully shaped, was a particular pleasure. It was funny to see the contrast between this formal demonstration and what followed: a display of just how un-classical today’s dancers can be. I wonder if the faculty shielded the young dancers’ eyes as Ivan Vasiliev tore across the stage like a panther and planted himself behind Xiomara Reyes, placing his hands on her waist with workmanlike focus….Vasiliev is no paragon of elegance, that’s for sure, but his sheer exuberance, and the power of his jumps and lifts, makes him an undeniable presence onstage. No-one does an overhead lift like Vasiliev; he seems to want to propel his ballerina into the stratosphere. If he could dislocate his shoulder to get her even higher, he would.”

Two Wheeldons, Queen Latifah, and a Tricky Dress: The NYCB Spring Gala (for DanceTabs)

Dear friends,

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Balanchine's "The Man I Love." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in Balanchine’s “The Man I Love.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here’s my latest for DanceTabs, a review of New York City Ballet’s spring gala, which included a new ballet, a pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon, and the revival of an older work, Soirée Musicale, as well as excerpts from Who Cares, Stars and Stripes, Glass Pieces, and West Side Story Suite.

And a short excerpt:

“Considering the many distinctive works Wheeldon has given this company over the years…a Wheeldon première inevitably brings raised expectations. His newest piece, A Place for Us, turns out to be an extended pas de deux for two of the company’s most musical dancers, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Both move with scintillating clarity mixed with a jazzy sense of all-American informality….In response to these qualities, Wheeldon has created a dance that has the feel of an improvisation, as well as an homage to the artful spontaneity cultivated by Jerome Robbins in works like Other Dances and A Suite of Dances.”
Questions, comments, and complaints  welcome!

Opening Night at New York City Ballet

Janie Taylor and Anthony Huxley in Ivesiana. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Janie Taylor and Anthony Huxley in Ivesiana. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

The company kicked off its spring season — a.k.a. the American Music Festival — on April 30, with an all-Balanchine program. (The date also marked the thirtieth anniversary of Balanchine’s death.) On the program: Who Cares?, Tarantella, Stars and Stripes, and the revival of that most mysterious ballet, Ivesiana (not performed since 2004). The cast of Ivesiana was mostly new, and included Ashley Laracey in her first big role since being promoted to soloist int the spring. And what a striking, chilling ballet it is. You can read my review (for DanceTabs) here.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“Made in 1954 (the same year as Western Symphony, of all things) for a cast of dancers that included Janet Reed, Allegra Kent, Tanaquil LeClercq, Francisco Moncion, and Todd Bolender, Ivesiana is one of Balnachine’s simplest, and most unnerving, compositions. Four ideas, four sections, not many steps, and no pointe-work – except in the crazed third chapter, “In the Inn,” which is crammed to the gills with steps and performed on pointe…. The entire thing is steeped in an atsmophere of suffocating irresolution, of irratonal occurrences and otherworldliness.”

Lil Buck at Le Poisson Rouge (for DanceTabs)

Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma at Le Poisson Rouge. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Lil Buck and Yo Yo Ma at Le Poisson Rouge. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Here’s my review of Lil Buck, a young dancer specializing in a kind of hip-hop dance from Memphis known as Jookin’. He performed at the downtown spot Le Poisson rouge with an eclectic cast of musicians, including Yo Yo Ma, the quartet Brooklyn Rider, and the jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup. He’s a remarkably musical dancer. I reviewed the performance for DanceTabs.

And here’s a short excerpt:

“One of the immediately impressive aspects of Jookin’ technique is the fact that the impulse behind the footwork is concealed, so there seems to be no weight at all on the feet; the dancer propels himself in any direction with a kind of liquid, uninterrupted pas de bourrée, a series of tiny, braided steps. This unbroken continuity of motion is made possible by extremely flexible and controlled ankles, which undulate as the dancers create figure eights with their feet.”

Breaking the Waves (Review of Martha Graham’s Fall and Recover Gala, for DanceTabs)

Blakeley White-McGuire (and her extraordinary dress) in "Imperial Gesture." Photo by Charles Eilber.
Blakeley White-McGuire (and her extraordinary dress) in “Imperial Gesture.” Photo by Charles Eilber.

Here’s my review of the Martha Graham Fall and Recovery Gala, which included the restored version of Imperial Gesture, an intriguing excerpt from Canticle for Innocent Comedians, a new work by Luca Veggetti, and an excerpt of a work-in-progress by Duato.

And a short excerpt:

“Even more than with other choreographers, the costumes and sets are essential elements of Graham’s dance imagination. Think of Martha’s stretchy sack-dress in Lamentation, or the prickly metal tree-dress by Noguchi in Cave of the Heart. They are extensions of the dancers’ bodies, and of Graham’s Jungian world-view. Even more, they color our perception of the movement. A contraction of the pelvis looks quite different in a leotard than it does in a floor-length cape-dress.”

Any thoughts on the current Graham season?

Sleeping Beauty at New York City Ballet—When it all Clicks

Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik

New York City closed its Tchaikovsky-themed winter season with two weeks of performances of Peter Martins’ staging of Sleeping Beauty. I always think of this this great classical ballet as a luminous example of the triumph of form. When all the elements come together—musical interpretation, sets and costumes, grandeur and detail in the dancing—I feel an irrepressible surge of emotion at its splendor. Watching its patterns unfold is like a visit to Vaux le Vicomte: how could something be so beautiful, so elegant, so harmoniously grand? Tchaikovsky’s music conveys this feeling with ardor and a kind of blind belief: the longing for things to be made right (just think of the cello solo in the Vision Scene), the lure of fantasy (think of the sparkle of the Bluebird pas de deux), the glorification of harmony (the horns in the wedding pas de deux), the delight of ensemble dancing (the irrepressible drive of the Garland Waltz). In Sleeping Beauty, one easily recognizes the antecedent to Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, and the luminous finale of Symphony in C.

Teresa Reichlen as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Teresa Reichlen as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Every balletomane has his or her ideal version of the ballet. I’m not sure I’ve yet seen mine, but in the absence of perfection, and despite some reservations (mainly about its rushed pace), I have great admiration for Peter Martins’ staging for New York City Ballet. The scenery, by David Mitchell, is really quite beautiful. Mitchell uses projections of châteaux and landscapes to create a sense of space, inviting the audience to envision the story from afar and then experience it from close at hand. I especially love the way the projections slowly pan out, in a series of still images, from the courtyard where Princess Aurora’s birthday celebrations take place to the exterior of the castle, the forest, and then the entire kingdom, with just a small spire in the distance to suggest the castle’s isolation from the world. Then we fly high above a long, meandering river to the forest where Prince Désiré cavorts half-heartedly with his guests. Like Tchaikovsky’s pulsing music at this point in the score, the voyage through space also suggests a voyage through time. The Prince’s hunting party occurs one hundred years after the original events, in a setting that evokes by Watteau’s Fêtes Galantes. Mitchell’s autumnal scene, with rust-colored foliage and a river glistening in the distance, is very handsome, as are Patricia Zipprodt’s deliciously detailed costumes. I especially love Aurora’s slightly faded white tutu in the wedding scene, with a fine chain extending from the bodice and around the upper arm, accentuating the épaules, one of the loveliest parts of a dancer’s anatomy. Zipprodt’s colors are muted and faintly “antique,” thankfully free of the garish Disney-quality so often used in fairy-tale productions.

The hunting scene, however, reveals one of the staging’s nagging problems: an unwillingness to allow the story to take the time it needs to build atmosphere. No sooner have the Prince’s companions arrived that they are sent scurrying off again. An entire scene, along with its mime and courtly dances, has been cut. The scene no longer makes sense, except as an elaborate excuse to introduce the Prince. (An expensive excuse, too, since the costumes in the scene are quite sumptuous.) Similarly, the fairies’ individual solos in the prologue, each of which is meant to embody a quality presented to the young princess as a gift, are danced at such a clip that meaning and cleanness of execution are inevitably sacrificed. The dancers do their best, but they look rushed and rather pained. It’s a shame, because these are wonderful little miniatures, each with its own quality and perfume.

Balanchine's "Garland Dance" in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Balanchine’s “Garland Dance” in “Sleeping Beauty.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Martins has left many passages of choreography untouched: the Rose Adagio, the Vision, Balanchine’s glorious Garland Dance (with its necklace of little girls threading through the patterns), Bluebird, the Wedding pas de deux. Martins’ fairy-tale divertissements—especially Little Red Riding Hood, featuring another little girl from the company school—are especially pleasing. Martins has a knack for character dances, especially those for children. I also admire his homage to Balanchine during the Wedding divertissements, a pas de quatre with jewel tones:  Emerald, Ruby, Diamond, Gold. The third variation, for Diamond, is quite tricky, with its syncopated, accented music, to which he has set complex phrases of hops on point. I always look forward to it.

That said, the company doesn’t always dance Sleeping Beauty with the sparkle it deserves. The mime passages are rather vague, and the courtiers often look stiff and lost rather than noble and engaged. NYCB’s dancers are not trained to act, and the ballet’s extreme classicism can leave them looking rather exposed. For all these reasons, especially toward the beginning of the run the ballet  didn’t quite cohere. Tiler Peck, who had been so wonderful in her début as Aurora a few years back, now looked like she was trying too hard to “sell” the character. Aurora isn’t really a character anyway, more like a series of essences: child-like charm, dreamy longing, womanly grandeur, joy.

The final tableau in Peter Martins' Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The final tableau in Peter Martins’ Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

But the Feb. 21 performance fulfilled the ballet’s promise. Perhaps, after a week-and-a-half of shows, the style had cohered. The conductor, Andrews Sill, brought out the lushness and colors of the score, and for the most part, did not rush, though the tempi remained brisk and bright. The lilting violin melody during Aurora’s wedding solo was particularly well played—bravo to the violinist.  Sterling Hyltin’s Aurora was wonderfully fresh, skittish, delicate, and un-mannered, though she seemed a little bit nervous at first. Hyltin is one of the company’s most charming, feminine dancers. She has an innate sophistication and taste, but also a wonderful friskiness and light, happy jump. And she is appealingly free of airs, almost modest, despite the radiance of her dancing. Robert Fairchild, her Prince, danced with his usual ardor, to which he added a greater polish than I had ever seen from him. His partnering was, as always, devoted, impeccable.

There was an air of happiness onstage. Everyone seemed to be dancing his or her best. Lauren Lovette was a delicious Ruby, sensual and vivacious and lush. Ashley Laracey’s Fairy of Generosity was confident and lyrical, with gorgeously stretched lines. Teresa Reichlen, stepping in for Rebecca Krohn, radiated energy with her back, her head, her milky arms, one movement melting into the next. Lauren King, as Princess Florine, broke through her usual cheerful but slightly tense demeanor, arms fluttering, eyes engaged, chest and shoulders suggesting a fluttering heart. It was a charmed evening.

Shortly afterward, it was announced that eleven dancers had been promoted just as the performance was about to begin. Perhaps this explained some of the exuberance to be seen onstage. Hard work, form, perseverance, precision, belief: it all pays off. A brilliant way to finish the season.

Here is a list of the promotions:

From corps to soloist: Lauren King, Ashley Laracey’s, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley.

And from soloist to principal: Adrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay and Ask la Cour.

Breaking Through: An Interview with Teresa Reichlen

Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Recently sat down with Teresa Reichlen, of New York City Ballet; here‘s a link to my interview, for DanceTabs.

Reichlen has been dancing gorgeously this season; she seems to have broken through some emotional barrier that was holding her back slightly. She’s one of those dancers that just seem to transcend technique and really dance. You can still catch her as Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty on Feb. 22. But keep an eye out for her, especially in roles like the opening section of Vienna Waltzes or Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream.